Soccer lessons


I am not a soccer enthusiast. The number of soccer matches that I have ever watched on tv can be counted on the fingers of one hand. I have not closely followed the European soccer championships that are currently held in France and are now almost ended. That fact that my own country did not qualify for this tournament did not worry me at all.

During the first few days of the event my reactions were dominated by irritation. The clashes between British and Russian fans were in my opinion (and this view was widely shared) disgusting. I was afraid that this would become a feature of the entire tournament. But, fortunately, that was not the case.

I did, however, pay some attention to the role of Iceland and of Wales. The teams of those two very small nations were able to reach the quarter finals. The team of Iceland (330.000 inhabitants) lost 2-5 against France, while the team from Wales (3 million inhabitants) had to recognize Portugal as stronger than they were (0-2).

It would have been quite extraordinary if the two teams had won these two matches. No doubt many Icelandic and Welsh supports hoped for that kind of miracle. But when they returned home, they were given the kind of enthusiastic welcome, as if they had won the world cup. The people were ecstatic about the success of their team.

It makes one think. The people were not sad because their team had lost, but thy were excited about what they had accomplished. The loss in the quarter finals felt in fact like a big success. What they had done far exceeded all expectations. Would it not be great of people in general (ourselves included) would be more like the Icelanders and the Welsh and would much less focus on things that did not succeed and would simply be happy and thankful for the things that did turn out well?

This soccer lesson reminded me of a Norwegian soccer team. A few years ago Sigve Tonstad, a Norwegian scholar who teaches at the American Loma Linda University, wrote a chapter for the Festschrift for dr. Jan Paulsen (the president of the Adventist world church in the 1999-2010 period), which I had the honor to edit.  It was entitled: ‘The Nimble Foot.’ In his creative and inspiring contribution Tonstad tells the story of the soccer team of Trondheim—a Norwegian town with only about 170.000 inhabitants.  At the end of the last century the Rosenborg team won the competition in the national league no less than thirteen (!) times and it played against against some of the greatest teams of Europe, as for instance AC Milan.

Tonstad applied the major elements of the strategy of this successful team with the way in which organizations (such as the Seventh-day Adventist Church) should be led. One of the crucial principles of the trainer of the Rosenborg team was that each player should not aim at being the star of the game, but should do everything possible to build on the strengths of the other players and make them excel.

The accomplishments of the Trondheim team has a great lesson for all of us. We can do more of we do not constantly compete with one another, but do everything we can to ensure that the people which whom we work can excel.

Maybe I should pay more attention to the soccer phenomenon. Who knows how many other wise lessons I might encounter.